Papier-Mache Art Bowls 7: Experiments
Last week, restless and not ready for bed, I prepared some materials and made a new batch of papier-maché art bowls. Most of these were experiments with new or different kinds of paper, and they did not all succeed. I made five new pieces from several different kinds of paper. Some of them were fresh experiments working with paper types I had only tried once or twice before, with mixed results.
The five bowls shown here were all made in an evening. I tried to use a little more glue in the glue-water mix for the papier-maché matrix, which I think was a good choice. However, some of these papers were problematic when gotten wet in the medium. More on that below.
Blue & Gold Bowl
This is my favorite piece from this session. It was the most successful art bowl of the evening, I feel. I used up some remaining decorative Black Ink papers I had used to make a couple of other art bowls before (like the green bowl here). The crinkled gold-foil paper as well as the blue and purple hand-made fibrous papers were all part of the Black Ink allotment. I need to order more of this exquisite, stunning paper, as it works well for these kinds of more purely artistic projects. I mostly cut these papers into small squares and triangles. The gold paper was especially lovely as a contrast on this otherwise- dark-colored bowl. It really pops.
I really like this blue and gold bowl. I've put it on my mantlepiece next to some other successful previous pieces.
This golden bowl, seen here from above and below, is the next-most-successful piece of the evening. It uses more of the decorative Black Ink paper, this time in the gold, yellow, earth-tan, and clay-grey ranges of color. Some of these lighter-color papers show the fibers and patterns clearly of the materials they're made from, including small leaves. I used the crinkled gold foil paper on the inside and outside of this bowl, to increase its brightness, and I think that worked well. Imagine a quartz crystal in this bowl, lit by the sun, brightening a room with its reflections and refractions.
The interior texture is a little more organic, a little more interesting. The ragged edges of these sorts of hand-made bowls intrigues me, in terms of design and pattern. From this oblique angle one can also see more clearly the layering of sheets of paper, with colors and patterns showing through in translucent areas. I like the gradations of colors in this bowl, topped off by the reflective gold.
This decorative paper, like the mulberry paper discussed below, is thin and very easy to both crumple and tear when wet. I barely dipped these papers into the papier-maché matrix, just enough to get them wet enough to stick together. The quick dip works better with some paper types than others. Also, because of the paper's thinness, each of these bowls made from these decorative papers uses multiple layers of paper to reinforce the bowl's structural strength. Each is at least three layers of paper thick. This was a slight problem during drying, causing some differential pulling of one sheet on another, and I had to press or smooth down some wrinkles while the bowl was still half-wet. But once dry, these bowls are very light yet surprisingly firm to the touch. Bowls made from this paper, using three or four layers total, hold together surprisingly well, when they've finished drying. While still wet, though, they are very soft, and if you try to take them out of the molds too soon, they can get mushy, lose shape, or just have pieces fall off. So, don't try to get them out of the molds too early; patience is necessary.
Blue in Gold
Since the glass and plastic bowls I have been using as molds are slightly different in size, I thought to try some gradations as well. This is how the Blue Bowl looks when nestled inside the Golden Bowl. I think it's a striking effect. I might try to make a set of bowls later that are designed to nest inside each other, each revealing something striking when pulled off the pile.
This larger, deep-dish bowl is made entirely from natural mulberry paper, dyed in neutral earth tones.
Mulberry Bowl, red aspect
I designed this bowl, in my head, before laying it out in the mold, to show these asymmetrical, opposing colors within a symmetrical form, so that depending what angle you look at the bowl from, it looks completely different.
Mulberry Bowl, blue-green angle
The mulberry paper dries up firm and strong when you use several layers of paper, although as with the decorative papers above, if you take it out of the mold too soon it will collapse into mush. The mulberry paper when wet is incredibly soft and fragile, almost like tissue paper. It tears easily, and crumples easily. I ended piling up several layers of different-colored sheets, most of them translucent when dry, so that background colors do show through and affect the bowl's surface colors. (This is more noticeable in natural light than in the artificial light used for these documentation photos.) I like the translucent effect, which allows you to modulate and shift the colors slightly, depending on how you layer the sheets.
I'd call this bowl a qualified success. It's an interesting shape, and I like the color patterns that resulted, but it remains somewhat fragile, if firm, when dried, and the darker colors are almost too subtle except when viewed in direct sunlight. Still, I think this was a good experiment. I learned a lot about the limitations of this kind of paper; mostly, that when using it, when must layer it, or provide a stronger paper matrix in between the inner and out shells, to provide structural strength.
Origami Bowl, falling apart
This origami-paper was the failure of the evening. Live and learn. Origami paper is thin yet stiff, to promote crisp folding. When wetted in the papier-maché matrix, it behaved a lot like the mulberry paper, like tissue paper, easily torn and crumpled, so like the mulberry paper, I barely got it wet, just dipping it in quickly. This turned out to be a mistake. The origami paper is actually rather fibrous, so it did not cling together nearly as well as the other kinds of paper used during this session; in fact, since I was using both very small whole sheets and cut squares from larger sheets, which were of different textures, and some of which have heavy-ink printing on them, before the bowl was even dry, it started falling apart. I didn't get enough glue in the matrix, and I didn't get the sheets bonded with matrix enough to hold them together. As you can see in the photo here, several sheets just plain fell off. (Perhaps once everything was dried enough, I might have tried gluing the bowl back together, just with white glue; but that feels like cheating.) In the background are some unused sheet, and my previous attempt to make an origami-paper bowl, which was likewise only a partial success.
I might try another origami-paper project later, but I think I will try next a flat-plain mold, and use the paper as top layer over some firmer paper as support layer. More like a framed artwork piece, rather than a bowl. That would allow one to do a more graphic, purely design-oriented piece in two dimensions, albeit with textures and layers of paper that could be used to give some relief-sculpted effects.
Stone Circle Nest Bowl II
This final bowl from this session is a re-creation of the first Stone Circle Nest Bowl I had been requested to make as a donation for a fundraiser. It's a bit larger than the original, and a bit more consciously formed. I should have known that, following Buddhist aesthetics, "first thought, best thought" would apply towards recreating this photo-illustration type art bowl. I think this bowl looks fine, but it just doesn't excite me as much as the first version did; some of that, no doubt, is that first discoveries always quicken the interest more for the artist. Really, there's nothing wrong here; the finished piece just feels a little less spontaneous. I'd say this art bowl is a partial success, maybe not perfectly as I had envisioned it, but really not bad at all.
The angular shapes here are good, though, and the original concept—wherein the bowl's exterior gives no hint of the "reveal" of the nested circle stone within the interior—still works fine as a discovery moment.
I ended putting some rounded stones in the bowl, taken from a California beach on the Pacific Ocean from my last roadtrip. I think i will keep stones in this bowl most of the time, perhaps changing the arrangement of stones periodically. That also makes the reveal of the stone in the illustration itself more dramatic, when you pull the real stones out of the bowl.
So, overall for this papier-maché session, a few more experiments in different kinds of paper, shapes, materials, and concepts. Partial successes in most cases, with one failure, and one very beautiful result which I'm very pleased with.